In Germany, an era has come to an end: after more than 50 years in application, there is to be no more compulsory military service, and the ‘Bundeswehr’ (armed forces) is to be reduced in numbers.
To find out more about the change, euronews spoke to Wolfgang Ischinger, a diplomat and head of the Munich Security Conference, who is in regular contact with decision makers from NATO, Europe, Russia, China, Japan and India.
Sigrid Ulrich, euronews: Mr Ischinger, is this the peace dividend we were promised after the end of the Cold War?
Wolfgang Ischinger. I’m not so happy with the concept of peace dividend – that sounds as if you had paid something and now you want some money back. The world has changed dramatically in recent years. Germany’s security can no longer be defined by its borders alone. We live in a world where threats or risks affect our country, our European region from far away. The army has to adapt to that, and so I think it’s a good decision to transform the German army into a professional one.
euronews: Does this mean German society giving up good traditions along with bad?
Ischinger: For a long time Germans had the feeling that it is important to integrate the armed forces with civilian society in order to make sure that we never again risk the same thing as during the time of the Weimar Republic (1918-1933), or the Nazi era (1933-1945) — when the army marched to the beat of its own drum. Nobody speaks of that danger any more. It no longer exists.
euronews: Wars are very unpopular in Germany in this day and age… Take Iraq or Libya as examples: how will it be possible to attract enough new professional soldiers?
Ischinger: I think this is a task of political leadership: To convince the German population that turning a blind eye to problems abroad does not make us safer. That does not mean that German soldiers should go anywhere in the world where things are on fire. It means intervening in places where our security is thrown into question, that we can do that if we have to.
euronews: What do you mean by “our security”? German security or a wider concept? Is Germany’s decision a signal for Europe or a response to new types of conflict?
Ischinger: A professional army is more Europe-effective than the traditional volunteer army. I think by going through this transition, Germany will be even fitter for Europe. German security is part of European security, and the more we think along European lines the more we are on the right track.
euronews: Attempts to create a European Defence Community have not worked out. The Cold War came to an end 20 years ago — what do you think the military scenario will look like 20 years in the future?
Ischinger: My scenario, my vision is very clear. Why does any European member state have to have its own small air force? Isn’t it possible to synergise and gain efficiency and save money by working together? This is a broad topic, in which only small steps have been made and this is how I see our future: there has to be more Europe, not less.